Read Mark 5:1-20.

Some of you know what the people of Gerasa have been through . . . You know who you are. It’s not just the graveyard variety of demons one has to deal with to understand. If you ever tried to help others who are possessed by their Legions of evils then you know. If you know what it is like to be awakened at night by the agony of their torture. If you known what it is like to see them break the chains they are bound with for their own protection, then you know. If you have ever felt the frustration of just giving up and learning to cope with it then you know what the people of Gerasa have been through. You know who you are.

Some of you know what the nameless man known only as the demoniac or Legion has been through. You know who you are. Some of you have been there and known the agony of sin in a profound way. You have experienced it to the point that he has oppressed you, dehumanized you, and injured you. And even when others try to help, the power is just too strong. You know who you are.

Whether we identify with the Gerasenes or the demoniac is not the issue. Both groups are met by Jesus, the Son of the God Most High and both must respond to his presence without exception. If those who identify with the demon-possessed man can be described as “possessed by powers” then those of us who identify with the Gerasenes are also pestered by the powers and without Jesus we might be described as ineffective and frustrated when we have to use our own resources to restrain evil ...

What Have You to Do With Me Jesus, the Son of the God Most High?
Notice that Jesus isn’t frustrated. Even though he has supposedly lost the “home court advantage” in the war against evil he isn’t staggered. Here he is in a foreign land where evil cannot be contained. He is in an unclean place, a graveyard, surrounded by people who raise unclean animals, swine. The force that opposes him this time isn’t just the lone unclean spirit that wanders into the synagogue one day. Now Jesus faces the Legion of the Strong Man – a scarred up, chain busting nightmare that once resembled a human being.
This one-man army of evil is bold too. He opens the dialogue with threats and name-calling (not nasty names, but using the name of Jesus to force him to do his bidding). He is not at all confused about who Jesus is and the power he commands. So he (or is it they) begins to defend himself and when that fails he/they tries to negotiate for his/their own survival . . .

Jesus’ reaction is swift – “Come out of him and leave him alone!”
What do you have to do with us Jesus Son of the God Most High?”
What’s your name?
Legion! There are many of us (Is he trying to scare Jesus?)
We like it here. Don’t make us leave! (Sympathy?)
You are evil and you must go.
What about the pigs? That’s better than nothing, send us into the pigs! (Is this a ruse?)

And the outcome is simple – the demons are destroyed and the man is not restrained, much better than that he is released! The outcome is simple, the reactions of the groups we have identified with is not so simple.

The Reaction of the Gerasenes
Jesus didn’t ask the swine herders’ permission when he gave possession right of way to the Legion of Demons. If you think about it, that seems a bit inconsiderate and insensitive. Yes, human beings are more important than swine that were going to be slaughtered anyway, but a lot of human beings’ economic and financial situation was impacted when pork futures took a dive – literally. A herd of 2000 swine is quite a herd and the loss of such goods is an economic disaster. Not to mention the fact that some were probably going to be without food.
So it seems sort of harsh for Jesus to be so bold. We can try to explain it, but there’s only one explanation that sticks – Jesus is what Legion called him – Son of the God Most High! One with such authority, the one who created these swine in the first place, needn’t ask for permission.
Jesus doesn’t negotiate with evil. He isn’t just interested in chaining it up, restraining it, or controlling it – he intends to annihilate it. When Jesus works in our community and our cities to release people from the dehumanizing, humiliating, oppressive work of evil and sin he isn’t squeamish or sympathetic about our “herds of swine.” If he had no hesitation or regret about cashing in 2000 swine for the campaign against evil, do you think Jesus is squeamish or sympathetic about our resources? Is he confounded when he realizes that helping those who we cannot help means that some of our precious resources might end up trashed or broken. Does he back off when he considers that helping the poor, addicted, lost, and demon-possessed might be an economic burden or an inconvenience? I don’t think so, because all the resources of heaven and earth are available to him – he is the Son of the God Most High.

And the fact is, the Gerasenes know this. When they see the man they tried to help all those years fully restored they realize just how powerful this stranger is. Their amazement gives way to fear just as it did with the disciples in the boat when they witnessed Jesus yield unimaginable power. The Gerasenes realize that if they couldn’t restrain and contain the strong man, then they certainly cannot restrain and control, or domesticate the Stronger Man? Like the Demons they too are asking, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus Son of the God Most High?”

[Thomas Edison invented the electric bulb, but it was Nikola Tesla who invented the means to deliver the power to light the bulb. Edison was a rival and he gave voice to the concerns about Tesla’s methods to deliver electricity. There were fears that Tesla’s method would broadcast such high voltage energy that the atmosphere would burn away or homes would be destroyed, people’s hearts would stop from electrocution. So many fears and so many people resisted electrical service. But once it was proven that the high voltage power could be domesticated and contained safely, everyone wanted electric light.]

Unlike electricity, the power of God and his Holy Spirit cannot be contained or domesticated. Jesus is the Son of the God Most High and there is no authority to limit his power and his will other than his own. He is good and he is faithful, but don’t try to reduce him to safe! A sad fact of church history is that the mission of God and the active presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are often squelched or turned away by fearful disciples. When we become aware of the fact that God’s power cannot be domesticated, contained or bottled, we resist it. We would rather rely on our own weak and ineffective means because we are threatened by the Son of the God Most High.

The Reaction of the Demon-Possessed Man
The man is afraid that he will forever be known by his possessions. No one will recall his family or his name. He will be known only as the ex-demoniac formerly known as Legion. So, he wants to go with Jesus. That risk is less frightening than trying to find his way in a place that remembers what he once was. If prophets have no honor in their hometown, troubled people that everyone tried to help and restrain really have no honor. Jesus gives the man a mission, “Go tell the good news. Tell them what you had to do with the Son of the God Most High.” Jesus knows that the Gerasenes recognize his power but they don’t know of his goodness. This man can represent that. The lives of those who’ve been transformed are a witness. They witness to both the incredible power and authority of the Most High God but also to his goodness. I don’t think we will be so concerned about the power of the Son of the God Most High if he would listen to some of the stories of those who have been made new by that power. If we will then we will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and take him out of the safety zone we have foolishly tried to force him into and place him at the highest place where he has really been all along.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 24 July 2005

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